Thinking Outside the Usual Box

Interior of the New Melleray chapel

If you’ve read my post on Etsy this weekend, you know in early September I visited the New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa. The abbey is in a lovely, rural setting—indeed, until last year the monks farmed the surrounding land. I’ve known a number of people who visit New Melleray for retreats—the monks rent out 18 rooms for quiet, contemplative stays. The people I know who spend time there aren’t all Catholic, but appreciate the opportunity for quiet, reflective time.

Signs demarcate areas in the shop

I went to learn about Trappist Caskets, the business that supports New Melleray. Sam Mulgrew is the general manager of Trappist Caskets. Sam is not a monk but is a woodworker, and actually made caskets himself before bringing the idea to the monks. He explained that creating these furniture quality caskets fit well with the life of the monks—the attention to detail and care with which the caskets are made matches the calm, reflective lives the men lead.

On left, Brother Felix, who has made more than 1,000 caskets

As I walked with Sam around the workshop floor, I saw men engaged in the work at hand. While they talked occasionally, there was no shouting across the room, no blaring radios.

Cremation urns drying

The monk’s approach to their work—evaluating each piece of lumber to determine its best use, managing their forest sustainably, keeping the end use of their product in mind—is wholly integrated with the lives they lead. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a place where work and values align so closely. It made me wonder whether this kind of attention is possible only in a place that’s separate from the world. The concept of intertwining your belief system and your daily life so completely is enticing.

I’m not Catholic and I don’t plan to be buried when I die, but I left Trappist Caskets having gained insight into embracing both those decisions in life.

Flippin’ Knitting

Last spring, a woman at a meeting sat next to me with the loveliest scarf. It was short and flippy on the ends and had the most charming little bobbles. I complimented her on it and lo and behold, the very next week (okay, so the meeting was Weight Watchers), she brought a copy of the pattern for me. A total stranger did this. I love people who love textiles.

The pattern is by Kat Coyle (just found her blog and it is well worth a visit—a super-talented designer with a bold and bright color sense—her lace knits are lovely) and was originally in Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2007. You can find it on Ravelry here.

 I made the red one in the spring for myself and was delighted to learn how to wrap and knit stitches and make bobbles…two new skills to accompany my learning to knit cables earlier this year. I settled on Blue Sky Sport Weight 100% Baby Alpaca from Home Ec—very cozy against my neck and it knitted fairly quickly. I decided to knit one in green for my Minnesota sister for her early June birthday. I’m feeling a little sheepish that I just finished it and sent it off, but she probably wouldn’t have gotten much use out of it in July and August, anyway. (The colors really don’t look nearly as rich in the photo as they are in person.)

And did I keep going to Weight Watchers? Well, yes, for awhile. But I got derailed by Italy, visitors, vacation at the lake, etc. Will. return. soon.

Share (Quilt Blocks) and Share Alike

I’ve never (successfully) been a part of a block exchange. I’ve wanted to join one, but just never had the time to follow through (that’s the unsuccessful part). So last year, when I was at Lake Tahoe with Mary Louand friends, I was delighted when someone suggested we have a witch block exchange. The witch was modified from a pattern that I think had its roots in one of Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran’s fantastic, freeform books. (You can see Cherise’s incredible version of this quilt below.)
One of my fellow retreaters, De, offered to create a pattern and share it with us, which she did last year. Then Mel made a variation of De’s template pattern using strips. I didn’t get started on these until I was at the lake in August and only have one completely finished. But I have all the segments of the other 14 blocks ready to go.
I admit that used to be a bit of a snob about novelty prints. Some slip too far over the edge of cutesiness, particularly if you don’t have a baby or grandchild for whom you’re stitching. And who really needs a Halloween quilt? But as my friend Anne R. reminded me yesterday, most quilting these days doesn’t have a whole lot to do with need. And is there a better excuse for buying skull and crossbones fabric?
I’ll share the results with you in mid-October, when the retreaters gather and swap blocks…it will be a perfect example of what I love about quilting—the way that one block can look so different, depending on the fabrics used to make it. 
Have you had any experience with block exchanges? Any stories you’d be willing to share?

Happy Birthday, Little Beanie

Today is my youngest daughter’s birthday. I was lucky enough to have her here over Labor Day weekend, and since she left yesterday we gave her her presents. The one I’d like to share with you is a circular scarf I knit for her.

Rebecca, (affectionately known as Beanie or simply The Bean), has rather exacting tastes and making something she likes isn’t easy. But when I saw this lovely, golden Madeline Tosh DK yarn, I knew she’d love the color. I chose to make this circular scarf, Honey Cowl, a freebie pattern also from Madeline Tosh. I started this mother in May, taking it to Italy with me. I figured it was a simple pattern and would be perfect for those times when I’d be distracted and have to put it down. Even so, I pulled out rows multiple times…not sure how this happened on such a simple, 4-row pattern. But in the end I am very happy with it, and so is Rebecca. She put it right on and even wore it home on the plane, which delighted me no end.

So Happy Birthday, Beanie—Love you lots!